Eczema affects about 1 in 5 children in the UK and many of these develop the condition before their first birthday, according to the NHS.
National Eczema Week (17-25 September) aims to raise awareness of eczema, including the psychological effects it has on sufferers, and help people get access to necessary treatment.
What is eczema?
The most common type of eczema, is atopic eczema, which the NHS describes as: “A condition that causes the skin to become itchy, red, dry and cracked.”
It can be present on any area of the body, though it usually affects the skin creases, neck, back of the knees and inside of the elbows.
Margaret Cox, Chief Executive at the National Eczema Society, told The Huffington Post UK: “Its chief characteristic is the itch, which at times can become almost unbearable, causing a child to want to scratch constantly, especially at night, thereby interfering with sleep.”
Atopic eczema usually appears during the first few months of life, often starting on the face and scalp.
My newborn baby has dry skin, is this something to worry about?
Dr. Helen Webberley, GP for Oxford Online Pharmacy, told HuffPost UK: “Many babies have dry skin in their early weeks and this is because they have come out of a nice warm, wet environment where the skin is protected by the vernix - the white creamy substance that babies have on their skin when they are first born.
“This dry skin is of no concern and needs no specific treatment, except some gentle baby moisturiser if it is bad.”
What causes eczema?
“We don’t know what causes eczema, although it is more common in people who have allergies such as hay fever and also conditions such as asthma,” explained Webberley.
According to the NHS the condition can also run in families, as it often develops alongside other conditions.
What is making my baby’s symptoms worse?
Margaret Cox explained that eczema is a very individual condition so it’s hard to pinpoint exact triggers. However these things might make symptoms worse:
Avoid soap and detergent, instead wash your baby using an emollient as a soap substitute.
Watch out for fragrances - whether in the form of liquid, powder, paste or airborne.
Being too hot or too cold can trigger a bout of itching too; dressing in thin layers can help and try not to let your baby get too warm, especially at night.
How can I treat eczema at home?
Cox said: “Unfortunately, at present there is no cure for atopic eczema, but it can usually be well managed. The nature of eczema is a cycle of controlled eczema and ‘flares’.
“The regular use of emollients (medical moisturisers, which you can get on prescription from your GP, nurse or health visitor) is essential to constantly repair the skin barrier and to help prevent this dryness.”
Webberley explained that there are generally two stages to treatment:
1. The first is to moisturise. The inflamed skin needs lots and lots of moisture and any creams should be applied multiple times in a day.
2. The second is a mild steroid cream in order to get rid of the redness and inflammation, and this is just as essential as the first step to get rid of eczema.
Are these long term treatments?
Webberley said that parents should know the creams are not a cure or a long-term solution: “They are just a way of easing the symptoms while your baby grows out of having eczema.
“As such, if the dry skin or red inflamed skin reoccurs at any time, it is essential that you reintroduce the moisturiser immediately to treat the dry skin and the steroid cream for any red inflamed skin.”
Are steroid creams safe to use on my baby?
“Many parents worry about using steroid creams on young skin but, in fact, the redness and inflammation is much more damaging to the skin than appropriately used steroid cream,” said Webberley.
“Steroid cream used on red angry skin is entirely appropriate and as soon as the redness and angriness lessens, the use of cream be withdrawn.”
I think the eczema is infected, should we see our GP?
Parents should not ignore skin if it is particularly red, inflamed, or especially if it is weeping. Go to your GP early on to ask about treatments and how to move forward with a game plan that reduces your baby’s discomfort.
Webberley said: “If the eczema becomes infected, it will become resistant to the steroid cream and moisturiser, and they will stop working. If this happens, the red and inflamed skin will become more apparent and perhaps become weepy or messy. At this stage you may need some antibiotics and you should discuss this with your GP.”